Intimate letters from Joséphine Bonaparte to general of Napoleon’s for auction

Letters from empress of France to Gen Alexandre Berthier described as revealing

Jacques-Louis David’s painting  ‘The Consecration of Napoleon’. Photograph: RMN/Arnaudet-Blot

Jacques-Louis David’s painting ‘The Consecration of Napoleon’. Photograph: RMN/Arnaudet-Blot


In 1806 Joséphine Bonaparte wrote to one of Napoleon’s most trusted generals, Alexandre Berthier, who had become her own close friend, appealing to him to guard the emperor’s safety in battle.

“Above all take care of the emperor,” she wrote in October 1806 to his chief of staff. “Ensure that he does not expose himself too much, you are one of his oldest friends, and it is your attachment to him which calms me.”

A few weeks after she wrote so tenderly of Napoleon’s welfare, his mistress Eléonore Denuelle would give birth to a son – convincing him it was his wife’s fault, not his, that they had failed to produce a longed-for heir. The fate of their marriage was sealed.

The letter is one of four revealing, unpublished letters from Joséphine to Berthier to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in Paris tomorrow.

At the time of the letters Joséphine was empress of France, crowned by Napoleon in a dazzling ceremony in Paris in 1804.

She was infamous for extravagance, and one of the letters is on paper of truly imperial luxury, bordered with embossed palm trees, urns and laurels, and decorated with now tarnished silver leaf.

“These are wonderful letters, so intimate and revealing, to a man who was a trusted friend,” said Frederique Parent, an expert at the Paris branch of the auction house.

“It has been a privilege to have them in my hands.”

In the last of the letters, in 1809, she wrote to Berthier of the death of Jean Lannes, one of Napoleon’s most brilliant generals who also became her close friend.

Mr Parent described the letter as “exceptionally unusual”, adding: “To find Joséphine directly addressing military affairs, and a general by name, is quite remarkable.” – (Guardian service)